Where Did Our Confidence Go?
At one time, I was perhaps one of the most sexually confident women on the planet. I loved my body. I was willing to share it freely. I enjoyed sex.
What changed? I got married. And it took me longer than a decade (along with months of counseling) to return to the place where I loved my body, shared it freely, and enjoyed sex once again.
Some of you know what I'm talking about. As single women, sex was often a game that we liked to play, and some of us were very skilled at it. I've got it. You want it. But the price of admission into my private playground is a big dose of attention and affection. Make me feel really good about myself, and I'll make you feel really good in exchange. But now that we're sleeping next to the same man night after night, month after month, year after year, the challenge has worn off. The payoff is no longer clear. Hubby isn't wooing and pursuing us like he used to, so our motivation wanes. Sex feels more like an obligation than a mutual thrill.
And maybe that mental list of previous sexual partners has begun to haunt you. You calculate all of the sexual favors you paid out in hopes of earning emotional interest, but now you feel sexually bankrupt. How could I have just given my body away like that? And how could my husband possibly love me and want to be with me after all I've done? you may wonder.
Or perhaps you weren't skilled at all when you came into marriage. You assumed your husband was going to teach you everything you needed to know about sex, or that you'd figure it out together. Now that he's so masterfully taught you that the round peg goes in the round hole for approximately 2.8 minutes, you're left wondering, Is this all there is? Disappointed and disillusioned, you've come to see sex as something you're expected to just dish out like a scoop of ice cream whenever he gets hungry, which makes you want to close the ice cream shop altogether most days.
Or maybe your sexual confidence has been robbed because while you've been dishing it out, he's been salivating over other flavors. You notice him glance up and down another woman's body as she walks by. You know where he keeps his pornography stash. You've gone to his most recent websites to see what he's been looking at on his laptop. You catch him masturbating alone, most likely fantasizing about any woman except you.
Perhaps you, like millions of other ladies, have lost your sexual confidence as a result of past sexual abuse. Rather than associating sex with passion and pleasure, you've associated it with pain and degradation. You know in your head that it's not your husband's fault that you were abused, but you've insulated yourself from further pain with walls of anger, resentment, and fear of intimacy. You can't imagine how you'll ever get over what's been done to you in the past.
Maybe you simply do not feel beautiful, especially when you compare your postpartum body (complete with stretch-marked hips, flabby tummy, and saggy boobs) to the airbrushed magazine models. Excess food becomes your drug of choice to medicate your emotional pain. Your husband asks why you're eating turtle cheesecake if you already feel fat. You inhale a second piece just to spite him, and think, No sex for you again tonight, pal!
Or perhaps children clinging to your ankles all day prevent you from mustering enough energy to enjoy sex much anymore. Your idea of a blissfully indulgent evening is ordering takeout, throwing the paper plates away after dinner, and heading straight for bed at eight p.m. without having to tuck anyone in or take care of anyone else's needs.
Oh, the many issues that we let rob us of our sexual confidence! No wonder more and more married people are claiming to be sexually frustrated. No wonder there are so many sexless marriages today. In 2005, Family Circle magazine published the results of a national survey in which they asked married women to reveal their innermost desires, needs, regrets, and joys. Consider these results and what they say about the quality of couples' relationships:
¥ Only 8 percent of married women consider their sex life "very hot."
¥ 21 percent call their sex life "routine and boring."
¥ 21 percent of respondents asked, "What sex life?"1
Sound familiar? Maybe you've been thinking you were alone in your struggle to discover sexual fulfillment. Think again_._._.
¥ 20 to 30 percent of men and 30 to 50 percent of women say they have little or no sex drive.2
¥ 33 to 50 percent of women experience orgasm infrequently and are dissatisfied with how often they reach orgasm.3
¥ 10 to 15 percent of American women have never experienced orgasm at all.4
Although many women have lost (or never found) their sexual groove in marriage, it doesn't mean they are sexually dead. We get married, not buried. If your husband isn't floating your sexual boat, you may be thinking about what it would be like to sail on other oceans. According to the aforementioned Family Circle survey_._._.
¥ 44 percent of wives have fantasized about having an affair, most often with a stranger, celebrity, or coworker.
¥ 29 percent of women admit to flirting with other men.
¥ 25 percent of women fantasize about another man during the act of sex.5
If you ask me, these statistics merely indicate the number of women who are willing to admit their issues to researchers. I think the number of women who actually engage in these extramarital games and struggle with finding genuine sexual fulfillment within their marriage is much higher. What gives me this impression? The multitude of e-mails I receive every day from women lamenting their lack of sexual confidence. For example:
¥ Lisa, who was sexually abused as a child, confesses, "Sexual fantasies of other men have always been an issue for me, and extramarital affairs littered the first five years of my marriage. Even now that I'm being faithful to my husband, I still struggle with feeling the need to compete with other women for my husband's attention. We spent two weeks in Hawaii and I was miserable the whole time because of all the bikini-clad bodies around. My husband says, 'But I'm with you, so what's your problem?' I just wish I knew the answer to that question."
¥ Sylvia was sexually active before marriage, then married a virgin three years ago. She asks, "How do you and your husband keep the past out of your marriage? Do you ever talk about it? How do you get beyond the hurt? I am afraid this is affecting my sex life because I still feel 'unclean' at times. I am also afraid of trying anything new to please him because I don't want him to think I'm a slut. I know he must think about my past sometimes, but I don't ever want to talk about it. I just want the whole thing to be forgotten, but I can't erase the memories or their negative effects."
¥ Abby has been married eight years and has one child. She writes, "My husband and I get along very well, but it feels more like we're friends or business partners than lovers. I'm no longer attracted to him physically at all and I can't stand it when he comes near me for even just a quick kiss. I actually feel repulsed by him. I'm not frigid, but there's just no 'chemistry' any longer. How can I find my husband desirable again?"
¥ Terri came into marriage expecting that everything would come naturally, but it hasn't worked that way. She says, "I just can't relax and get into it. I have too many hang-ups about anything sexual. I love my husband, but I wish sex didn't have to be a part of the marital equation at all. When I give in out of obligation, I usually just close my eyes and think of something else. I know that's probably not all that fun to him, but I don't know what else to do."
When I receive these kinds of questions and comments, I always wonder the same thing: What difference would sexual confidence make in these women's lives? In their husbands' lives? In the lives of their families?
Defining Sexual Confidence
Perhaps you are wondering what it would be like to be a sexually confident wife. First let's talk about what it isn't like. It's not about having a great body or obsessing over getting one. It's not about fitting the "young, hot" stereotypical mold. It's not about being his sexual rag doll, doormat, or vending machine. It's not about killing your conscience and being willing to do anything and everything to sexually satisfy someone else. It's simply not about becoming someone you aren't.
It's about becoming who you really are, and humans are naturally sexual beings. Perhaps you don't feel like a sexual being now, but I hope that by the time you finish reading this book, you will. In fact, I hope you'll feel not just sexual but sexually confident as you put these principles into practice.
As a sexually confident wife, you will learn to love your body and feel beautiful in your own skin. You'll be content with being the best ____________________ you can be (fill in the blank with your own first and last names) and not feel the need to compare yourself or your husband to anyone else. You'll come to believe wholeheartedly that your husband finds you incredibly desirable. You'll be able to openly communicate what you find pleasurable, as well as what is beyond your personal boundaries. You will feel great about what you have to offer your husband, and will be able to relax and freely enjoy all that he has to offer you.
A PERSONAL REPORT CARD
Whether you have a long way to go in this process, or just a little, is based on where you currently stand. To help you assess where you are on the sexual confidence scale, here's a list of 69 questions (pun intended!) to ask yourself.
____ 1. I feel good about who I am as a sexual female.
____ 2. I have no doubt that my husband finds me sexually attractive.
____ 3. I trust my husband completely when making love.
____ 4. I am comfortable having sex as often as my husband wants to.
____ 5. I am comfortable having sex however my husband wants to do it.
____ 6. I initiate sex often with my husband with confidence that I won't be denied.
____ 7. I am comfortable inside my own skin and like who I see in the mirror.
____ 8. I experience sexual desire for my husband.
____ 9. I am comfortable with my husband looking at my naked body.
____ 10. I believe my husband likes my body just the way it is.
____ 11. I like the size of my breasts.
____ 12. I believe my husband likes the size of my breasts.
____ 13. I am comfortable with the shape of my body.
____ 14. I am comfortable with the size of my body.
____ 15. I am not ashamed to let my husband look at my vagina.
____ 16. I am not embarrassed to let my husband touch my vagina.
____ 17. I am comfortable with my husband performing oral sex.
____ 18. I am at ease with vaginal penetration (intercourse).
____ 19. I believe I know exactly what turns my husband on.
____ 20. I have confidence that I can bring my husband to climax every time.
____ 21. I believe that my own sexual pleasure is important to my husband.
____ 22. I am worthy of the investment of time and effort it takes for me to orgasm.
____ 23. It does not bother me for other people to know that I am a sexual woman.
____ 24. It does not bother me if my children are aware that their parents have sex.
____ 25. I am very interested in sexual activity with my husband.
____ 26. My husband considers me an interesting sex partner.
____ 27. I am willing to try new sexual positions.
____ 28. I am willing to try new sexual acts.
____ 29. I feel the freedom to verbalize my personal desires in bed.
____ 30. I am comfortable asking how I might pleasure my husband sexually.
____ 31. I do not worry about my husband asking me to do something degrading in bed.
____ 32. I don't worry about my husband rejecting my sexual advances.
____ 33. I have confidence that I satisfy my husband completely in the bedroom.
____ 34. I believe my husband only seeks sexual pleasure within our marriage.
____ 35. My husband doesn't feel the need to look elsewhere for sexual release.
____ 36. I believe I couldn't feel any sexier than I do now.
____ 37. I believe I couldn't be any sexier in my husband's eyes than I am now.
____ 38. I experience orgasm whenever I choose to.
____ 39. I enjoy experiencing vaginal (G-spot) orgasms.
____ 40. I enjoy clitoral orgasms.
____ 41. I am able to achieve multiple orgasms.
____ 42. I believe I am a good steward of my sexuality and the power it holds.
____ 43. I believe my husband is a good steward of his sexuality and the power it holds.
____ 44. I believe sex bonds me and my husband together in a special and unique way.
____ 45. I do not struggle with issues of low self-esteem.
____ 46. I feel worthy of a man's attention and affection.
____ 47. I do not feel inferior to any other woman.
____ 48. I am not haunted by sexual "ghosts" in my past.
____ 49. I do not bear any scars from previous sexual abuse or experiences.
____ 50. Sexual intimacy does not elicit any negative emotions at all.
____ 51. I don't worry about what others might think if they knew my sexual past.
____ 52. I don't fear being drawn toward previous lovers.
____ 53. I don't fear being drawn toward new extramarital lovers.
____ 54. I am comfortable with my own sexual fantasies.
____ 55. I have no problem verbalizing my sexual fantasies to my husband.
____ 56. I make personal hygiene a daily priority so I never have to worry about unpleasant odors.
____ 57. My bedroom is a place that provides a sexual sanctuary in my marriage.
____ 58. I believe I look sexy in the underwear I choose to wear.
____ 59. I don't believe there is any "morally wrong" sexual position within marriage.
____ 60. My spirituality and sexuality are not in conflict with each other.
____ 61. I am willing to be on top in bed if it stimulates my husband to watch me.
____ 62. I consistently make time for sex because it's an important aspect of our lives.
____ 63. I believe our sex life is at least "normal" or "better than normal."
____ 64. My children feel free to ask me about or discuss sexual issues.
____ 65. I am comfortable initiating conversations with my children about sexuality.
____ 66. I believe my children want a marriage like mine someday.
____ 67. I believe my husband sees me as a sexually confident
____ 68. I see myself as a sexually confident wife.
____ 69. Based on my example, I believe my daughter will be a sexually confident wife someday.
I'm not going to give you a scale by which you can give yourself a "grade," because it's not about how our numbers average out. It's about celebrating our strengths and being willing to work on our weaknesses. Just glance back over your numbers and you'll recognize the areas in which you have the most confidence and which areas need improvement.
Beyond Competence to Confidence
Most women are sexually competent. They know what to do in the bedroom to bring their husband to climax. But I want more than that for you. I want you to be sexually confident. Sexual confidence isn't just for the supermodel or porn star. It is the birthright of every woman, and the deep desire of every husband for his wife. It's also a valuable legacy that we pass down to our own daughters and granddaughters as they are seeking to understand, embrace, and celebrate their own sexuality within marriage.
However, issues such as extreme body inhibition, shame from past sexual abuse, guilt over premarital sexual activity, fear of intimacy, or lack of knowledge about male and female sexuality are just some of the many hurdles that hold us back in the bedroom.
If you could overcome all of the hurdles holding you back, could you become a sexually confident wife? Absolutely! If that is your desire, let's figure out how to overcome these hurdles and get on the right track toward sexual confidence.
As I wrote this book, the same question was posed by several well-intentioned, marketing-minded friends: "Why don't you call it The Sexually Confident Woman instead of The Sexually Confident Wife?" While I appreciated their encouragement to reach a larger audience, the suggestion simply didn't sit right with me.
I'm not so sure that a single woman struggles nearly as much with sexual confidence as married women do. Marriage is intended to be a rich, rewarding relationship that provides a unique bond between a husband and wife, and a lifelong commitment is potentially the greatest source of comfort and strength one could experience in a lifetime. But marriage requires hard work, and the sexual aspect of the relationship is no different. When things become difficult in the bedroom, it can be a real temptation for a wife to withdraw both physically and emotionally rather than putting forth the effort to keep things fresh and exciting.
On the other hand, it's not hard for a single woman to keep sex fresh and new when her relationship is fresh and new. She is often wined, dined, and romanced. But the more typical scenario for the married woman is an evening meal of leftovers from the fridge, followed by dinner dishes, writing out bills and balancing the checkbook, helping kids with homework, baths, and bedtime stories, and switching a load of laundry so everyone will have clean clothes to wear the next day. She may crawl into bed exhausted, wondering, Does he even recognize all I do around here?_._._._Does he understand how much I long to feel appreciated and affirmed?_._._._Will he understand if I'm simply not in the mood tonight?_._._._Does he still think I'm beautiful even with these stretch marks and post-pregnancy pounds?_._._._Does he still love me after all these years?
When a single woman seduces her man, she's a rock star in his eyes. But the married woman can feel more like a falling star. After a decade or three of marriage, she may find it difficult to come up with any technique or position they haven't already tried hundreds of times. She may even feel a deep sense of rebellion rising up to declare, "I don't even like sex anymore!" Or worse, she may be sexually interested, only to have her husband lose interest in her. Ouch!
I'd even go so far as to say that a single man and woman aren't even having real sex. They're having "best foot forward" sex (or whatever body part you want to use to describe it). They're showing each other only their good side, then retreating to the safety of their singleness. In marriage, however, there's no retreating. Living in close quarters all these years, we see not just the good but also the bad and the ugly, both in our husbands and in ourselves. We have to learn to arouse and be aroused by each other from day to day, month after month, year after year, in spite of those little idiosyncrasies that can drive us crazy at times.
Indeed, sexual confidence can be a great challenge for a married woman, but I believe this book is going to help you on many different levels-emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Rather than feeling as if sexual confidence is unrealistically required of you as a wife, I hope this book will truly inspire it in you.
And if you'd like to inspire other wives with your story, visit our blog page at www.sexuallyconfidentwife.com. ¥From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Sexually Confident Wife by Shannon Ethridge. Copyright © 2008 by Shannon Ethridge. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.